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Project Title:

Responding to Oil Spills in Arctic Marine Environments
PIN: DELS-OSB-09-02        

Major Unit:

Division on Earth and Life Studies
Transportation Research Board

Sub Unit: Ocean Studies Board
Marine Board
Polar Research Board

RSO: Glickson, Deborah

Subject/Focus Area: Environment and Environmental Studies

Project Scope
The National Research Council will assess the current state of science and engineering regarding oil spill response and environmental assessment in the Arctic region (with a specific focus on the Bering Strait and north), with emphasis on potential impacts in U.S. waters. As part of its report, the NRC-appointed committee will assess existing decision tools and approaches that utilize a variety of spill response technologies under the types of conditions and spill scenarios encountered at high latitudes. The report will also review new and ongoing research activities (in both the public and private sectors), identify opportunities and constraints for advancing oil spill research, describe promising new concepts and technologies for improving the response, including containment (surface and subsurface) approaches to reduce spill volume and/or spatial extent, and recommend strategies to advance research and address information gaps. The committee will also assess the types of baselines needed in the near-term for monitoring the impacts of an oil spill and for developing plans for recovery and restoration following an oil spill in U.S or international waters where a spill could potentially impact U.S. natural resources. For assessing the state of the science, the committee will address the following topics:

(1) Scenarios. Identify areas in U.S. or adjacent waters where current or potential activities could lead to an oil spill in the marine environment (marine transportation routes, cruise ships, fishing, pipeline locations, fuel storage facilities, oil and gas exploration and production). The scenarios would include descriptions of oil type (including biofuels and diesel fuel) and possible volume and trajectories of spills, season, and geographic location, including proximity to local communities and highly valued fish, bird, and marine mammal habitats.

(2) Preparedness.
• Describe the anticipated operating conditions, such as ice conditions, currents, prevailing winds, weather, amount of daylight, sea state, and distance/accessibility from responders and resources. This will include an evaluation of the state of hydrographic and charting data for higher risk areas.
• Assess infrastructure (including communication networks), manpower, and training necessary to operate in these conditions.
• Identify avenues for participation of and communication with indigenous communities and regional governmental (e.g. Alaska State) entities during planning and response.
• Build on existing agreements and identify gaps for international cooperation in establishing locations for incident command management, staffing, and supplying oil spill response infrastructure, recognizing the international interests in navigation and resource exploitation in Arctic environments.

(3) Response and Clean Up. Evaluate the effectiveness and limitations of current methodologies used in response to a spill in Arctic conditions.
• Assess utility of existing and promising new technologies to detect, map, track and project trajectories of spills under the anticipated operating conditions (e.g., ice conditions, visibility).
• Evaluate the effectiveness of oil spill response technologies under the following criteria:
• Operation under various conditions and time frames (volatile fractions, wind, sea state, temperature, degree of emulsion, oil type and viscosity);
• Spatial and temporal dimensions of the spill and the response.
• Transportation of equipment to remote areas;
• Natural oil degradation rates; and
• Ancillary effects of response operations on the indigenous communities, environment, and marine species;
• Assess the potential response strategies for the separation and recovery of oil from marine waters, on or associated with ice, sediments, and the shore zone, including an assessment of their contributions towards habitat recovery. This assessment will include discussion of constraints in the handling, storing, and disposing of recovered oil in situ or in remote locations, the volume of material to be treated, selection of methodologies for incineration or recycling onboard ship or in a remote location, and the further disposal or transport of the recovered product. The assessment will also include discussion of fate and effects of unrecovered oil left to biodegrade and weather in Arctic environments.
• Assess the capabilities and constraints for minimizing impacts and enhancing recovery of wildlife through deterrence and rehabilitation.

(4) Strategies for Establishing Environmental Baselines for Spill Response Decisions. Characterize the types of baseline information needed in the event of an oil spill. Evaluate existing pre-spill strategies for resource protection and identify additional protection options for resources at risk. Identify sampling and monitoring priorities for establishing baseline conditions and evaluating impacts of a potential spill.

This study is sponsored by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, U.S. Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, American Petroleum Institute, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Arctic Research Commission, Marine Mammal Commission, and the Oil Spill Recovery Institute.

The approximate starting date for the project is May 25, 2012.

A final report will be issued at the end of the project in Summer 2014.

Project Duration: 24 months    

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Committee Membership
Committee Membership

 Meeting 1 - 12/17/2012
 Meeting 2 - 02/04/2013
 Meeting 3 - 03/19/2013
 Meeting 4 - 06/18/2013
 Meeting 5 - 09/17/2013
 Meeting 6 - 01/22/2014
 Meeting 7 - 02/04/2014


Reports having no URL can be seen
at the Public Access Records Office
Responding to Oil Spills in the U.S. Arctic Marine Environment